Industry Insights Talent HR Essentials Diversity & Inclusion Culture

The Difference Between Equity and Equality and Why Both Matter

July 8, 2021

Whether you are a small business or a medium size company, one thing is certain, your employees are your biggest asset and you want to provide them with all the necessary tools to help them succeed. From providing training to making workplace accommodations your goal as a leader is to lead with empathy and create an inclusive workplace.

Both equality and equity are important to the workplace but are not interchangeable. Equity is the means by which individuals are treated fairly based on each individual’s needs; by contrast equality is providing the same treatment to all. Equality provides the same resources to all and pays little attention to the fairness of desired outcomes; while the practice of equity requires more foresight, and intentional allocation of resources tailored to individual needs to reach desired outcomes.

What someone needs to be successful in the workplace should be viewed through two lenses. The first is equality. The idea of equality is often the sole focus for many businesses, whether driven by an employment law architecture centered on equal opportunity, or the idea that treating everyone equally is the only factor that should be considered for success. For example, everyone needs a computer, a desk, a chair, some level of training and support for the job they have been hired to accomplish. Seems logical, right? They also need a workplace free from discrimination based on racism, sexism, ageism, etc.

Making sure policies and procedures are in place to address these workplace items helps promote a culture of equality in the workplace. But being free of discrimination is a minimum requirement imposed by law – it’s not the only factor needed for workplace success. Equality is a first step – not the last.

The second lens in which businesses can create an environment that helps employees succeed is equity. Equity in the workplace is a more personal and customized approach to address the needs of individual employees. Not everyone in a company will need the same things to achieve success. Equity takes thought, intentionality, planning, deliberate consideration, and a personalized approach, because the main focus is to meet a person’s individual needs and identify what resources are required to allow them to maximize their potential and bring their authentic self to work.

Sometimes equity can be simple and straightforward. For example, if your workforce is spread across multiple time zones, you may want to consider having a policy that mandates that your meetings should only be held during normal work hours for all applicable time zones so that nobody has to be on a call extremely early in the morning or late in the evening. Other times, it requires more thoughtfulness. For example, if you regularly schedule a virtual or a socially distanced happy hour, then you should consider ways to include colleagues who otherwise cannot (or might choose not to) engage in the event due to their personal or religious beliefs. Another example is assessing skills and talent individually, creating individualized career plans, and providing learning and development opportunities tailored to the specific needs of individual employees.

Demonstrating this type of intentionality behind equity, driven by individual needs, promotes diversity, inclusion, and provides a sense of belonging to the employees, whether they are working from the office or working from home.

Investing in equity in the workplace starts with you

As you continue to build an inclusive and an equitable workplace consider how you enhance your own perspective and support your employees. Take into account your DEI efforts and ensure that your employees are receiving appropriate tools and support to meet their unique needs.

Seek to learn the perspectives of others and set aside time to research. Strike up conversations with colleagues around the topics that are important to them as well as to your company culture as you further your DEI initiative.

Join us as we build awareness on this very critical topic, read here.

Subscribe to TED Talks, read content geared towards DEI from trusted sources, and keep in mind the following quote Martin Luther King, Jr.'s (excerpted from his Letter from Birmingham Jail) to remind ourselves of why continuous conversation and learning is so vital: "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

This post may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such web sites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on TriNet.com does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

By Darby Starnes

Manager, Learning & Development, TriNet

By Mathew Thomas

Chief of Staff, Legal and Compliance, TriNet

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